Credit: Affinity Law Group
Mark Shalloway is an Elder Law Attorney based out of West Palm Beach, Florida. His practice, Shalloway & Shalloway P.A. has been changing the lives of the elder and special needs communities in his areas for many years, but his work has had a national effect.
As one of the first certified Elder Law Attorneys in the United States, Mark Shalloway is a vocal advocate for proper care of our more vulnerable populations, and has served on a number of elder care committees and boards as both a member and chairman. He works to protect, but also educate the public on how to properly prepare themselves and their families for these more difficult aspects of life.
Interviewology: Tell us a bit about your journey into the legal field.
Mark G. Shalloway: My journey would begin being the son of an attorney. Some of my earliest memories are sitting in a chair at Dad’s office, playing with equipment. Funny thing is, I thought Dad said he was in “lost school,” not law school.
I was never pressured or even encouraged to go into law, but I found it fascinating. As I got older, I found an appreciation of lawyers. They’re the brunt of many jokes, but they help with such a wide spectrum of important topics. I found a compelling calling to be a part of a profession that Dad was a part of, but one that is also so diverse.
What I do day to day is very different from others. My field is different from real estate, criminal defense, tax law, or any number of other fields. There are people with law degrees who hold a political office, or work in a corporation. My journey into law recognized that latitude. I liked that. As a young guy, I didn’t know what path I would take, but I wanted an area where I could chart my path.
I: What inspired you to specifically take on the field of elder law?
MS: I had attended a continuing legal education class. One day in particular, there were a group of panelists looking for people who wanted to serve as advocates for elder communities and homes. I wanted to be civically and socially engaged in my community, so this caught my attention and I got involved.
That experience spun off into folks facing a need to pay for care in those facilities. They weren’t then, but now nursing homes are priced at $10,000. Most of us in middle class cannot afford that. Elder care lawyers look into these problems to find ways to benefit others. That is the heart and soul of elder law.
There were not a lot of books or guides for elder law when I started, and no board certification. Lawyers came together across the country in the early 90s and built this legal field. Compared to others, elder law is a young field. I have the privilege of serving in the charter class of board certified elder attorneys.
The field grew from traditional wills and trusts, to death and tax planning. People come to me looking to help secure life for family after they are gone. Elder law shifted to incapacitation. It turned into, “What happens when I get sick, not die?” So, they have to look into estate planning documents. This deals with diseases like Alzheimer’s or stroke.
We repurposed these documents to help people at home in assisted living places. The middle-class people struggle paying for this added monthly cost—$3,000 to $10,000 a month—for dressing, bathing, helping. Since these people need an aid and not a doctor, it isn’t covered, and we have to look into how Medicaid can benefit these people. We had to learn how to full disclosure shelter these assets with elder law. We can’t shelter every asset, but with planning we can work something out so they can qualify for Medicaid and nursing home care and not be broke.
I: Was it always the plan to create your own firm?
MS: I would say I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I learned that with one of my first jobs. I was working at a commercial litigation firm, and I treasured that experience, but it was too stifling. Not only was it the wrong field of law, banking, but it was far too rigid. My undergraduate work was theater, so I wanted to shape and grow my law firm with the creative vision that I had. I would need to be partners in a firm where I could really influence others with personality and culture.
I: How did you come about forming Shalloway & Shalloway with your father?
MS: When I had my experience with that first firm, I reached out to Dad and said “Look, I love where I’m at, but I would either prefer my own firm or to find a firm and become partners. Dad, are you interested in forming Shalloway & Shalloway, P.A.?”
Dad worked as an attorney when specialization was rare. In his time, it was much more common to be a general practitioner. He would work in real estate one day, then criminality, then divorce. I started in late 80s, so specialization was starting to catch on. I didn’t know how specialized that would get, and we started together. Early on it was more diverse—I was doing more estate planning and he was more generalized—and as I quickly grew into more elder law, he scaled back anything that was diverse and we focused on elder/special needs law.
I: You’ve worked with a number of elder law committees and boards as a member and chairman. What is the main goal of these organizations?
MS: Each of these organizations fall in different domains. Some are professional bars that help with professional legal development. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA)—which I believe influenced me with ethical development, growth, and practice capacity—is made up of lawyers across the country that helped mature the field. I became the chairman in 2008, and I did a lot of travel working in different aspects of the field. I provided assistance to the group and the congress. It gave me a fascinating perspective on the federal level, and I was able to see how other states were working.
At same time, was I had local clients. I was working at Stetson, teaching elder law. In a little over 15 years, they have built up a master’s degree and elder law program for that school, and host nationally reputed special needs conference annually. This has had a profound influence on the special needs practice for clients under 65. We most recently extended to veterans’ benefits advocacy to educate the JAG (Judge Advocate General’s) corps.
Community service and engagement are constituencies we serve and understand, because they need long term care. We get involved in multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s communities to gain insight in order to better serve them. We learn and listen to what they go through, and teach what they need so we can advocate better for legislatures and congresses.
I: What are some misconceptions about elder law that you face in your career?
MS: Elder law is thought to be mostly wills and trusts work. I laugh when others say they are elder lawyers, but are specifically traditional, because elder law focuses on more than long term care planning. People not fluent in the field think it’s a new term for estate planning, but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s recognized by the bar, and it has national certifications and state certifications. There is a real distinction. It is more than a marketing word for wills and trusts, or estate planning.
Elder law is unique in that we define work by the client, not the subject. Divorce and real estate are both subjects, but elder law covers 13 different areas— from guardianship, living wills, and public benefits like Medicaid. We use wills and trusts, but we also use long term care facilities and taxes. I’ve tagged briefly number of subjects that fall under the umbrella. People don’t realize that the field covers over 12 areas.
Florida is known as retirement state, but we ironically only have a little more 100 certified elder law attorneys among the 100,000 attorneys in total. This is not the case for most other specialty areas. I find it ironic, given the amount of retirees.
I: How did you develop these free seminars you host on estate planning, and a number of other topics?
MS: It was organic in that it was out of need and awareness. Part of the reality of legal profession is that I am not organized as a non-profit, so getting law out helps, but education is more important. Speaking is done in many different venues. We speak a few times a month to create education and awareness. This creates an easy forum for someone who does not regularly work with lawyers.
There is intimidation and fear with booking with lawyer. If referred by someone else, that is a helpful resource, but if they need an elder law attorney, there is a lot of worry and fear. What we have found is that by offering the workshop, people can sit in audience anonymously, and the seminar serves as a free, low-key sample consultation. They can sit in room, hear a lawyer speak, and understand personality. They are exposed to the subject matter and can understand if it will help. If it’s not right fit, they just leave. If they want more, they can follow up. You can go on internet, read articles, but you can learn much more if you show up to a seminar. If that’s all you need, you leave, but if you want more it’s easy to continue.
I: What does being ranked as one of the top elder law attorneys in the Palm Beach area mean to you?
MS: I work hard to try to establish what I call “objective credentials.” How does one measure what makes a good lawyer in the mind of client or referral source? I could stand on roof and say I’m good, but as a resource how does someone establish what makes a good lawyer? One standard of measure is bar certification. You have to maintain certification so knowledge is updated. Another is various reviews, where they give you a rating, or superlawyers, where other lawyers who have worked with you can give reviews. It is humbling. Reputation is easily damaged if you’re careless. I know I’ve got to earn it. It means the world to me. It comes from values my parents raised me on.
I: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
MS: Easily the gratitude that I am blessed to receive when I am able to help family or individual who is going through most difficult season of life. When families reach out they are middle, not rich, some are pro-bono, but most are middle class. The middle class fall through the cracks because they don’t fit the requirements for benefits, and they are not very rich. They work hard—they could be teachers, or doctors, or journalists, or other good, hard working people who have saved and are facing Alzheimer’s, stroke, Parkinson’s, or have a spouse or child with special needs. They can face these diseases for years—for the rest of their lives—and that can impoverish you. If we can do Medicaid planning, that can help.
We get thank you letters, and cookies, and pictures. I don’t know where else we could make a livelihood and still make such a positive impact. I love coming into work and making a difference— to shelter the asset so that a person in a home can pay for a private room, or duty aid, or have a van and wheelchair lift. To me, that is not wicked debauchery and self-indulgence, it’s being a human being. If you can have joy and the lift take you wherever you want, you can’t do if you’re paying $10,000 at nursing home. But if Medicaid and savings can do that for you, it gives you a little sunshine. That stuff gets us this gratitude.